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091: Cross-Train for the Faculty Track with the Academic Pathways Postdoctoral Fellowship

Think about your training as a grad student and postdoc – you spend countless hours at the bench, running experiments and reading papers to finish your personal research project.

Now think about your PI or faculty advisor.

Does she spend time at the bench?  Or are you more likely to find her in her office, writing grants, attending departmental meetings, and managing people, projects, and money?

If you’re noticing a mismatch between academic training and the actual work of a faculty member, you’re not alone.  The skills and traits that make us successful students may not translate into making us successful professors and PIs.

That’s where a unique postdoctoral fellowship steps in to bridge the gap: it’s the Academic Pathways program at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Their goal is to prepare postdocs for entry-level faculty jobs, with a special focus on increasing diversity at the highest levels of academia.

On The Path

This week, we take Hello PhD ‘on the road’ to record in front of a live audience at Vanderbilt University.  We were joined by three postdocs in the very first cohort of Academic Pathways Fellows: Lillian Brady, Rashanique Quarels and Diego Mesa.

Lillian Brady (Vanderbilt University)
Rashanique Quarels (Vanderbilt University)
Diego Mesa (Vanderbilt University)

These scholars tell us about the Academic Pathways program, and what makes it so different from traditional postdoctoral training.

That difference starts with the interview process. Rather than submitting a research statement describing their plan for the next 2-3 years, fellows visit Vanderbilt and collaborate on a research plan with a faculty advisor.  The committee then selects fellows based on the result – proving that they not only have a plan, but also a productive relationship with a mentor.

The program carves out protected time for advancing that research plan, but it’s not all bench work. Fellows receive tailored training and opportunities to advance their own skills in mentorship, teaching, and management.  They’re also introduced to the political aspects of faculty life, meeting with Deans and program directors to understand how an academic department handles appointments, funding, and personnel.

An important aspect of Academic Pathways is its commitment to improving diversity in science. Statistically, it’s easy to identify the problem at many Universities where women, people of color, and other groups are underrepresented in professorships and research labs.  Our panelists share the personal side of those statistics and how they plan to encourage the next generation of students.

They also share valuable advice on assembling a ‘panel of mentors’ to assist you in each stage of your career, the value of ‘just applying’ to programs and awards, and the importance of being kind to yourself after a hard day in lab.

These Beverages May Be Habit Forming

For our Science in the News segment, we’re discussing California’s decision to label cups of coffee with a cancer warning.

The coffee roasting process produces acrylamide, which has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. A small amount of that acrylamide ends up in your morning mocha, so a judge has determined that retailers must warn bleary-eyed coffee consumers.

We dissect the acrylamide research, and warn you about a few other foods that might be cause for concern.

But no matter how dire the warning, there’s no way we’re putting down our cups of coffee!

On second thought, this week’s ethanol might change our minds…  It’s the Schlossbier Munich Dunkel from Hollow P0inte Brewing in Nashville, TN.  It’s a local brew to cap off our special Vanderbilt episode, and the 32 ounce cans were large enough to share with the live audience!

We had an amazing time visiting Vanderbilt, and want to say a special “Thank You!” to our hosts, podcast panel, and the wonderful students, faculty, and administrators we met along the way.  Go Vandy!

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